Premiering on Netflix this Friday is Jagame Thandhiram, a Tamil action thriller frontlined by Dhanush. Directed by Karthik Subbaraj — the man behind films like Petta and Jigarthanda — Jagame Thandhiram is a big-budget gangster saga spanning countries, that also stars Malayalam star Joju George and Aishwarya Lekshmi. James Cosmo — who has played stellar roles in films like Braveheart, Trainspotting, Troy, Wonder Woman, as well as Game of Thrones — is the antagonist. We caught up for a video chat with Karthik, James, Joju and Aishwarya to know more about their film.
Karthik, you conceived Jagame Thandhiram in 2016. What was it about this idea that made you pursue it over so many years?
Karthik Subbaraj: I am a big fan of gangster movies, and a few years ago, I was in New York for a film festival. I was walking through Manhattan and I suddenly remembered (Martin) Scorsese’s films... the New York mob walking the streets, you know. And then I got this spark in my head that said, ‘Why can’t we write a script that merges the Western gangster world and that of Madurai gangsters?’
That was the starting point. But as I wrote the script, that idea evolved into something else... it became more than a gangster film. It touched a lot of global issues that are now happening, with respect to immigration and all of that. After so many ups and downs — I started writing it in 2016 — we are now ready, and it’s been an exciting journey.
For each of the actors, what was the impetus to sign on and are you, like Karthik, fans of the gangster genre?
James Cosmo: I am a big fan of gangster films. I recently watched The Irishman and loved it! I have done my quota of gangster movies, but what really attracted me to this film was Karthik’s encyclopedic knowledge of the whole film. It took a long time to write it, and we sat down together and he practically enacted every scene of the film to me without pause! It was a brilliant storyboard and it was a project I wanted to be a part of. I had never done a Tamil film, or an Indian film for that matter, and I was very keen to experience that.
Joju George: For me, a film hinges on the director, and I really liked Karthik’s vision. I am a big fan of Tamil films and I was trying to reach out to Karthik to act in this film. I did this film only for him. I am a big fan of all kinds of cinema... I am ready to act in Hollywood also!
Aishwarya Lekshmi: I am not a big fan of gangster films. Jagame Thandhiram has a lot of fights and action and entertainment, but underneath all of that there is a very sweet story of a man (Suruli, played by Dhanush) who goes from Madurai to London in search of a lot of things. Every character in the film has their own journey. I loved my character (Attila), and then, of course, is the additional benefit of working with Karthik sir.
James, did you have fun being badass in an Indian masala film?
James: Oh yes! The bad guys are always the fun parts to play (laughs). But sadly, we shot most of my parts in London. I did manage to get to India, but it was only for a week or so. But I absolutely loved it... I have very fond memories. The only problem is that when Karthik asked me to play this part, I asked him, ‘Will you get me to dance? Will there be a dance sequence?’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah’, but he actually lied to me! (Laughs) I never got to do any Indian dancing. Maybe in the next one, I will get to do one!
Aishwarya Lekshmi. Sourced by The Telegraph
Karthik: Sir, we will have a solo song for you in the next film!
James: I will hold you to that! Coming from a Western perspective, one tends to think that every Indian film has song and dance. I thought it would be so exciting to be choreographed (laughs). For an actor who has always worked in the West, it was an extraordinary experience to work in this film and participate in the Tamil film industry. I found it very fascinating and stimulating. Even though I didn’t dance!
I found working in an Indian film very magical... it has an almost mythic quality to it. Very profound things go on there. It was completely different for me...great fun!
Karthik, every action film has an emotional thread that helps it connect with a wider audience. Does that also hold true for Jagame Thandhiram?
Karthik: Yes, this is a character-driven story, a human story. It’s the interpersonal relationships between the characters. There is much more than raw action in this film. The title (which translates to ‘the world is tricky’) speaks a lot about the film. The feeling of home and wanting to go home is a big part of this film. It talks about those people who don’t know where they actually belong. It has a very relatable story.
Karthik, what made you approach James for the film and which is your favourite James Cosmo project?
Karthik: Game of Thrones (in which James plays Jeor Mormont, the “Old Bear”), without a doubt! More than me, my whole team was excited when they came to know we would be getting an actor from Game of Thrones. When I first met him for coffee in a club, he only wanted to dance! He was very disappointed when he came to know he didn’t have a song to dance to! The script initially had him coming in for a bit and dancing, but later I removed it. And he was like, ‘Why?!’
What’s your favourite gangster film?
Aishwarya: The Godfather films... all three parts, definitely. That’s the kind of film I like. Action backed by emotion. Even today, the trilogy speaks to the audience.
James: I would agree. The Godfather is the ‘godfather’ of gangster films, honestly. I also like the old French gangster films... Alain Delon and stuff. The French have a wonderful tradition of gangster movies, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and all those folks. That’s passed on to (Francis Ford) Coppola and Scorsese.
Karthik: For me, it’s The Godfather and Martin Scorsese’s films. The one film that introduced me to the world of gangsters is Thalapathi. As well as Nayakan, and then Ram Gopal Varma’s films like Satya and Company.
Joju: In Malayalam, Aryan is a favourite. As well as Nayakan, Thalapathi, The Irishman....